English rugby governing body 'on the verge of meltdown'

Former Rugby Football Union chief executive Francis Baron believes the English game's governing body is "on the point of complete meltdown" and its disintegration is "without parallel in UK major sports".

Baron, RFU chief from 1998 until last year, claims the organisation is in a "dysfunctional" state following recent controversies surrounding Sir Clive Woodward's possible return to the still vacant performance director position and the departure of his own successor, John Steele.

He told a Sunday newspaper: "The union now has no performance director or elite rugby director; it has no chief executive, no human resources manager, no finance director, staff morale is destroyed and the Government has expressed concern over what it sees as slipping governance of standards.

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"It is budgeting to lose 11 million next year. It is all without parallel in UK major sports and I never dreamt it could collapse so quickly."

Steele was ousted as chief executive following a unanimous vote at an emergency board meeting last week, his position having been deemed untenable by the RFU board due to the way he had handled the recruitment process for England's new performance director.

His desire to permanently cap the performance director's responsibility at Saxons level was seen as a major factor in former England head coach Woodward's decision to withdraw his candidacy.

Baron was highly critical of the decision to appoint Steele, who enjoyed an excellent record as chief executive of UK Sport, a tenure which peaked with the Beijing Olympics when Britain finished fourth in the medal table.

But Baron said: "John is a kind, decent and likeable man and I feel genuinely sorry for him and for his family, but I did tell colleagues on the Board when I heard about his appointment that he did not have the experience and the skill-set for the job.

"I advised strenuously against his appointment. I said it would end in tears. Simply, he did not tick any of the key boxes in the job specification."

Baron would love to see Woodward reconsider and reckons he remains the "ideal" man for the job. "People forget that Clive and I had six great years together," he said. "They were very successful, and Clive's skills and vision contributed hugely to the (2003] World Cup win. I would be fully in favour of Clive. He would be ideal."